Sanford Health physicians and nurses have created three businesses through the health care system’s new startup program, with several other new companies in the works.
When a nurse, provider, researcher or other employee has an idea that solves an internal challenge or improves patient care, they work with the Sanford Innovations team. Rather than licensing the invention to an outside business, the program helps the employee own their own company that’s external from Sanford Health but keeps those jobs and revenue inside the region, said Katie Pohlson, senior director of innovation and commercialization.
“The startup program provides a unique opportunity to allow our employees to engage in the innovation road map and see how we transform an idea to improve care to our patients. It’s also a great way to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in our local community,” Pohlson said.
700,000 potential users
The latest spinoff comes from sisters Amanda Rollag and Angel Rollag, both Sanford Health ambulatory nurses in Sioux Falls. They came up with a sternum pad that protects patients who have had surgery requiring a sternotomy, an incision made through the breastbone.
More than 700,000 people undergo open heart surgeries every year in the U.S. and have the procedure. To prevent postoperative complications and aid in recovery, patients are encouraged to be up walking and active several times a day. This helps improve oxygenation and reduces the risks of blood clots and pneumonia. They experience shortness of breath and coughing episodes while recovering, and they’re encouraged to use a walker to prevent falls from weakness. The sternal precautions given also advise against the patients reaching and lifting with their arms.
Patients are issued a pillow or blanket to brace and hold against the chest to cushion and protect the incision from the pain and pressure of coughing, sneezing or laughing. But that current process requires the use of hands and increases the risk of tripping or falling, limits the person’s mobility, requires constant holding or lifting and doesn’t adequately protect the chest.
The Rollags’ invention is called Sternum Protect, and they got the idea after their father, Dale Rollag, had open heart surgery.
“He had a hard time not using his arms when he was getting up. He would grab things when he wasn’t supposed to. He was not very careful with his sternum, and he would laugh, and it would be very painful for him. We just saw him struggle and knew that there was something better that could help him,” Amanda Rollag said.
‘Truly the inspiration’
Dale Rollag, who had an entrepreneurial mind himself, was killed in a 2020 Sioux Falls automobile accident.
“Our dad was truly the inspiration for the Sternum Protect pad,” Angel Rollag said. “We all brainstormed with him to come up with a makeshift solution at home to create a pad and improve recovery.”
The Rollags kept improving the idea and came up with a final product that covers the incision and is held in place by straps.
The two inventor-sisters worked with Braden Bills, a member of the Sanford Innovations team. He helped with the initial business plan and connected them with several experienced startup resources. With it, they tied for third place and won $4,000 in April at the Governor’s Giant Vision entrepreneurial business competition.
The sternum pad technology has since been licensed to the Rollags’ company, D3D, and they’re currently working on finalizing a manufacturing plan and registering it with the Food and Drug Administration. The goal is to start selling it by 2022.
“The whole process has been extremely exciting,” Angel Rollag said. “Just being able to see your idea come to life and knowing that every change that you’re implementing will also go to improve other people’s recovery, which is what the goal of this is. We’re hoping that our dad’s memory can live on to benefit others.”
Sanford Health’s first spinoff company was started by two Fargo surgeons.
Dr. Thomas Haldis, an interventional cardiologist and medical director of the cardiac lab, and neurosurgeon Dr. Alexander Drofa invented a device called the Slide Guide Catheter that could simplify stroke treatments. Their company, Flotronic Solutions LLC, has a working prototype that will be refined as it seeks clearance from the FDA.
Fargo trauma surgeon Dr. Steven Briggs started the third company, Blue Sky, under Sanford Health’s startup program. He developed three rib fixation devices that could allow a surgeon to repair broken ribs through a small incision and drill through the soft bone marrow and insert a wire or bit to stabilize the broken rib.
Several other Sanford Health employees are in the process of starting their own companies.
“The Innovations department offers such a huge resource for patient improvements,” Angel Rollag said. “We are on the front lines seeing problems, so the employees have a huge advantage in terms of having this startup program. And if we see something that could use improvement, this is the perfect way to do it.”